Keeping the winter chill at bay can increase your utility bills and take a toll on your wallet. Your water heater uses more energy than almost any other appliance in your home, so it makes sense that it should be one of the first places that you try to cut consumption. The following are a few simple measures that you can take to keep your water heater use in check during the winter months.

  • Adjust the thermostat. Most water heaters have a default setting of 140°. By adjusting the thermostat to 120°, you will use less energy while still having plenty of hot water. The lower temperature will also help prevent painful scalds and burns.
  • Take baths instead of showers. Even a shallow bath costs more than the average shower. You should also avoid lingering in the shower and turn the water off while shampooing or shaving to keep water usage to a minimum.
  • Remember to turn off the water while brushing your teeth or scrubbing the dishes until you are ready to rinse.
  • Only run your dishwasher or washing machine when you have full loads, and wash your clothes using cold water whenever possible.
  • Install a drain-water heat recovery system. These systems recapture the energy of the hot water that goes down your drain to preheat the cold water going into water fixtures and your water heater. The systems can cost several hundred dollars and must be installed by a professional; however, you can usually recover the cost in 2 to 7 years.
  • Consider replacing your traditional water heater with an energy-efficient or tankless model.

Of course, there are plenty of other places around the house where you can save on energy costs.

  • Use caulk or foam to seal around door frames, windows, recessed light fixtures, and electrical sockets. Small gaps around these areas can create drafts and allow warm air to leak to the outside.
  • Add layers of insulation. You can do this by hanging thick curtains, applying polyethylene film to your windows, and adding extra layers of insulation to your attic.
  • Leave the thermostat alone. Cranking up the thermostat does not warm the house any quicker. You can adjust or program your thermostat so that the house is slightly cooler while you are away, but otherwise it is best to leave it alone.

Whether you have a gas or electric water heater, you should check the thermostat and that the hot and cold water pipes are functioning properly. Simply touching the pipes should tell you if the hot and cold pipes are working.

Once a year, you should check and test the pressure relief valve and inspect for signs of leaks or discharged water. To test the valve, you need to lift the lever on the valve to ensure that water comes out of the discharge pipe. The water will be extremely hot, so you should use caution. If the valve does not function properly, you should call a professional water heater repair service as soon as possible.

Every two years, you should inspect the anode and replace as needed. The anode is a steel-core rod covered in aluminum or magnesium that is designed to prevent the outside tank from corroding. If you want to be especially thorough, you can drain a gallon of water from the tank on a monthly basis to check for sediment and silt.